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Japanese Canadians

Japanese Canadians, or Nikkei (meaning Japanese immigrants and their descendants), are Canadians of Japanese heritage. Japanese people arrived in Canada in two major waves. The first generation of immigrants, called Issei, arrived between 1877 and 1928, and the second after 1967. The 2016 census reported 121,485 people of Japanese origin in Canada, or 0.35 per cent of the Canadian population. The first generations of Japanese Canadians were denied the full rights of citizens, such as the right to vote in provincial and federal elections and to work in certain industries. During the Second World War, the federal government interned and dispossessed over 20,000 Japanese Canadians. Japanese Canadians have settled primarily in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, and have contributed to every aspect of Canadian society. Well-known Japanese Canadians include novelists Kerri Sakamoto, Aki Shimazaki, Michelle Sagara, Hiromi Goto, Kim Moritsugu and Joy Kogawa, poet Roy Miki, writer Ken Adachi, filmmakers Midi Onodera and Linda Ohama, scientist David Suzuki, public servant Thomas Shoyama, architects Raymond Moriyama and Bruce Kuwabara, community leader Art Miki, judoka Mas Takahashi, and agriculturalist Zenichi Shimbashi. Artists include Takao Tanabe, Miyuki Tanobe, Roy Kiyooka and Kazuo Nakamura. Politicians include Bev Oda, the first Japanese Canadian Member of Parliament and cabinet minister; BC Liberal cabinet minister Naomi Yamamoto; and former Ontario Progressive Conservative cabinet minister David Tsubouchi. Vicky Sunohara was part of the national women’s hockey team that won silver (1998) and gold (2002, 2006) at the Olympic Winter Games. Devin Setoguchi of the Minnesota Wild and AHL players Jon Matsumoto and Raymond Sawada are Japanese Canadian hockey players.

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Buddhism in Canada

The first Buddhists to set foot in Canada were likely Japanese and Chinese labourers who came to work on the railroads and in the mines in the 19th century. However, it was Japanese Canadians who first established institutional Buddhism in this country. In 2006, the Parliament of Canada voted unanimously to make His Holiness the Dalai Lama an honorary Canadian citizen. In the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), 366, 830 Canadians identified as Buddhist.

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Hide Hyodo Shimizu

Hide Shimizu (née Hyodo), CM, educator, activist (born 11 May 1908 in Vancouver, BC; died 22 August 1999 in Nepean, ON). The daughter of Japanese immigrants, Shimizu was instrumental in organizing education for interned Japanese Canadian children in British Columbia during the Second World War. For this, she was awarded the Order of Canada in 1982. She was also an activist, lobbying the Canadian government for the enfranchisement of Japanese Canadians in the 1930s and, in the 1980s, for redress for the suffering and loss of interned Japanese Canadians.

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Masumi Mitsui

Masumi Mitsui, MM, farmer, soldier, Canadian Legion official (born 7 October 1887 in Tokyo, Japan; died 22 April 1987 in Hamilton, ON). Masumi Mitsui immigrated to Canada in 1908 and served with distinction in the First World War. In 1931, he and his comrades persuaded the BC government to grant Japanese Canadian veterans the right to vote, a breakthrough for Japanese and other disenfranchised Canadians. Nevertheless, Matsui and more than 22,000 Japanese Canadians were displaced, detained and dispossessed by the federal government during the Second World War (see Internment of Japanese Canadians).

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Vancouver Asahi

The Asahi was a Japanese Canadian baseball club in Vancouver (1914–42). One of the city’s most dominant amateur teams, the Asahi used skill and tactics to win multiple league titles in Vancouver and along the Northwest Coast. In 1942, the team was disbanded when its members were among the 22,000 Japanese Canadians who were interned by the federal government (see Internment of Japanese Canadians). The Asahi were inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003 and the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.

Editorial

Japanese Canadian Internment: Prisoners in their own Country

Beginning in early 1942, the Canadian government detained and dispossessed more than 90 per cent of Japanese Canadians, some 21,000 people, living in British Columbia. The majority were Canadian citizens by birth. They were detained under the War Measures Act and were interned for the rest of the Second World War. Their homes and businesses were sold by the government to pay for their detention. In 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney apologized on behalf of the Canadian government for the wrongs it committed against Japanese Canadians. The government also made symbolic redress payments and repealed the War Measures Act.

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Internment of Japanese Canadians

The forcible expulsion and confinement of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War is one of the most tragic sets of events in Canada’s history. Some 21,000 Canadian citizens and residents were taken from their homes on Canada’s West Coast, without any charge or due process. Beginning 24 February 1942, around 12,000 of them were exiled to remote areas of British Columbia and elsewhere. The federal government stripped them of their property and pressured many of them to accept mass deportation after the war. Those who remained were not allowed to return to the West Coast until 1 April 1949. In 1988, the federal government officially apologized for its treatment of Japanese Canadians. A redress payment of $21,000 was made to each survivor, and more than $12 million was allocated to a community fund and human rights projects.

Interview

Interned in Canada: an Interview with Pat Adachi

Pat Adachi was born and raised in Vancouver, the daughter of Japanese immigrants. She grew up in the heart of the city’s Little Tokyo neighbourhood, within walking distance of the local grounds where her father would take her on Sundays to watch her favourite baseball team, the Vancouver Asahi. Adachi and her family lived normal lives, until she and her community were uprooted in 1942, when the federal government ordered Japanese Canadians to internment camps in rural British Columbia (see Internment of Japanese Canadians).

In this interview, Adachi shares her story and relates the experiences of the 22,000 Japanese Canadians who were interned in Canada during the Second World War.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Joy Kogawa

Joy Nozomi Kogawa (née Nakayama), CM, OBC, poet, novelist, activist (born 6 June 1935 in Vancouver, BC). Joy Kogawa is one of the most influential Canadian authors of Japanese descent. She is celebrated both for her moving, fictionalized accounts of the internment of Japanese Canadians and her work in the Redress Movement to obtain compensation and reparation for her community. She is a Member of the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia, as well as Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun.

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Japanese Gardens in Canada

Of 2 main types of Japanese gardens - dry-landscape or Zen gardens, and stroll gardens - Canadians have commissioned predominantly the latter. Dry-landscape gardens feature raked gravel and rocks symbolizing water and islands.

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Manzo Nagano

Manzo Nagano, businessman (born 26 November 1853 in Kuchinotsu [Minamishimabara], Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan; died May 1924 in Kuchinotsu [Minamishimabara], Nagasaki Prefecture). Manzo Nagano is the first known Japanese immigrant to Canada. In March 1877, at age 24, he left Japan for the West aboard a British steamer, arriving in May in British Columbia. He eventually settled in Victoria, where he ran a number of businesses. He returned to Japan in failing health in 1923, and died the following year.

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Obasan

Obasan, a novel by Joy Kogawa (1981), is the first novel to trace the internment and dispersal of 20 000 Japanese Canadians from the West Coast during WWII.

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Internment in Canada

Internment is the forcible confinement or detention of a person during wartime. Large-scale internment operations were carried out by the Canadian government during the First World War and the Second World War. In both cases, the War Measures Actwas invoked. This gave the government the authority to deny people’s civil liberties, notably habeas corpus (the right to a fair trial before detention). People were held in camps across the country. More than 8,500 people were interned during the First World War and as many as 24,000 during the Second World War — including some 12,000 Japanese Canadians.

Article

Racial Segregation of Asian Canadians

The beginning of Chinese immigration to present-day British Columbia in the 1850s sparked a vociferous and sustained opposition from Euro-Canadian residents. This opposition intensified with the arrival of Japanese immigrants in the 1870s and South Asians in the early 1900s. To counter the supposed racial and economic dangers presented by these groups, labour leaders and others in the province successfully lobbied for legal and social restrictions on Asian employment, housing, education and civic participation in the province. These formed the basis for Asian segregation in British Columbia and Canada generally, which continued until the end of Japanese internment and the removal of all Asian voting restrictions in 1949. While it never attained the level of racial separation seen during the US South’s Jim Crow era, Asian segregation from whites in 19th and early 20th century Canada defined many aspects of everyday life in Canada.

Editorial

Asian Heritage in Canada

While relations between Canada's West Coast and Asia were established during the fur trade era, the first real movement of people from Asia to Canada did not occur until the late 19th century. Drawn by the gold rushes and opportunities to work on the railways or in the mines, the first immigrants from China, Japan and South Asia were not welcomed by the largely Anglo-British society in Canada, who responded with discriminatory and racist measures.

This exhibit focuses on the struggles endured by the first generations of Asian immigrants in Canada. As we briefly touch on these stories — including immigration laws, ghettoization, race riots, the right to work and vote, and internment — we encourage you to click through to read more articles on the Encyclopedia in order to gain a broader view of this crucial corner of Canadian history.

See also the Asian Heritage in Canada collection page.

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Canada and the Battle of Hong Kong

Hong Kong was the first place Canadians fought a land battle in the Second World War. From 8 to 25 December 1941, almost 2,000 troops from Winnipeg and Quebec City — sent to Hong Kong expecting little more than guard duty — fought bravely against the overwhelming power of an invading Japanese force. When the British colony surrendered on Christmas Day, 290 Canadians had been killed in the fighting. Another 264 would die over the next four years, amid the inhumane conditions of Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.